Chapter 4. The Chivalrous
The man in black and the girl quickly engaged in a fight. As an outsider, Zhou Zishu had a good look at their capability; the movements were not quite the same but the ruthlessness from both was definitely on the same level. They didn't appear to be from righteous orthodox sects.
After about fourteen to fifteen moves, the man suddenly staggered back to dodge, kicking at her Shanzhong point1. She leaned away and made a soft noise, concentrating on her next attack which apparently was cracking down on the enemy's knees. But she didn't expect a noise from something hidden above the man's pants; and from it a spring ejected, shooting an arrow forward, aiming at the girl's chin.
She was not half bad, currently having an upper hand in this fight even, but never could she have predicted this vile move; panic piled up but dodging at this point was futile. The rock in Zhou Zishu's hand was finally useful as he flicked it straight toward the incoming arrow, deflecting its course. It ended up narrowly grazing the girl's temple.
After experiencing danger, a normal person would feel terrified; but apparently she was the opposite, her embarrassment turning into anger. She surged forward and made a clawing attack without hesitation, gripping at the enemy's leg bone and twisting it. The man screamed as his leg was broken, but his attacker didn't stop there. In her hand was a glowing blue light, and she ruthlessly pounded it into the man's chest, knocking him backwards, both legs bent and crushed. His face immediately turned gray and purple as he stared at the girl with wide eyes, pointing at her, "You're Pur… Purple…"
He died before he could finish.
The old woman was frightened to death by this beautiful but cruel young lady.
Contrastingly, the simple-minded looking boy had a faster reaction, he threw himself at the fisherman, asking hurriedly, "Uncle Li, how are you? You…"
He still had a breath left in him. With all his strength, he caught the boy's sleeves; the latter tried to embrace him and help him stand. The girl in purple walked over, lifting the old man's eyelids, frowning, "It's the Three Geng2 Until Death poison, he's beyond saving now. My condolences."
The boy threw her hands off, glowering. He shouted at her, "Stop saying nonsense!"
Her brows raised, murderous intent resurfacing on her smiling expression. But she suppressed it after remembering something, arms crossed in front of her chest with a sneer, "You little puppy can't even see between good and bad."
The fisherman only looked at her for brief moment. He scanned over everyone, finally stopping at Zhou Zishu — who was standing at the statue's feet, two straws sticking out of his head, making a laughable sight of himself. The old man turned to him, about to say something.
Everyone's gaze followed his. The girl laughed, "Ah! I was just wondering who my benevolent savior was, can't believe it's you! I bought you wine, you helped he fight; so we're even!"
She spoke as if those two things could ever be equal, but Zhou Zishu wouldn't stoop as low as to argue with a pretty girl. He smiled, walking over to the old man, squatting down, "You calling me, old chap?"
The fisherman said, "I… I'll return your silver, your boat ride was free, you must help… help me…"
Zhou Zishu didn't wait for him to continue, shaking his head and reluctantly stood up, but the old man's grip on his wrist was unwavering, "Help me… bring this child to Taihu Holdings of the Zhao family…"
He was nowhere near a beautiful lady, so Zhou Zishu sighed, "Listen, old man…"
He was interrupted. "Small… favor, should… should be repaid with big gratitude…"
Zhou Zishu raised his head, sullenly looking at this shrine in ruins in the middle of nowhere. He thought about the possibility of changing his face again, as this one still didn't look sickly enough. How else people are thinking he's that benevolent to agree to these favors?
The fisherman seemed to be in his final moment, his grip ever stronger but his breath faint and weak in his throat. He faltered, "Consider this a way to accumulate your own merits, please! For your descendants… even if you die and have no offspring…. There's still… your next life…"
Those words hit him like a lightning strike, and the nails on his chest acted up again, as if wanting to sink even further into the flesh. There's still your next life. Your sins this lifetime will be paid in full with your death in three years, but… but there's still the next life to look forward to, right?
After a long while, Zhou Zishu sighed, turning over the silver crumble a few times in his palm and putting it back in his breast pocket.
The fisherman's hazy eyes brightened, his lips trembled. Then the light in his eyes slowly dimmed, hand loosening its grip on Zhou Zishu's and hanging down limply. He still seemed to rattle on about something, though.
Zhou Zishu put his ears closer to the elder's mouth, hearing him mutter brokenly, "You must… have to… If you don't… I'll… I'll haunt, haunt eighteen generations… your… ancestors…"
Zhou Zishu sat back, truly at a loss for words as the fisherman drew his last breath, head lolled to one side. Gut-wrenching sobs tore through the young boy's chest.
The old woman in servant clothes also drew a blank as she stood next to him, crying in panic. Zhou Zishu and the girl in purple stood to one side. The girl's big eyes wandered, and her voice was quiet, "Young Master said you're more than you appear to be, but I didn't really see it before. Which sect are you from? What's your name?"
Zhou Zishu graciously replied, "This incompetent one is Zhou… Zhou Xu, just a lonely vagrant travelling everywhere. Actually, I haven't had the honor of knowing your name, young miss."
She looked him up and down, shaking her head. "If you didn't look like a sick ghost and walk and talk like that, you would sound more like how Master's described. I'm Gu Xiang."
She had never heard of a Zhou Xu before; besides, they only met by chance, there were no reasons to be entirely truthful with each other. But she didn't mind it much, patting the young boy on the shoulder, "Say, he's passed away already, you should get him a proper burial. Are there more people chasing after you?"
Still annoyed by her bluntness earlier, he only glared. The grief and anger brimmed inside him had no way to be relieved, so he directed it all at her as if she was the one who caused the murder.
Gu Xiang raised a brow. This girl had the skills but still not quite the age in addition to the feel of an unorthodox martial artist she exuded. Having enough with the boy taking his anger out on her, she raised her hand with the intention of attack, but catching her off guard was Zhou Zishu's interception.
Gu Xiang felt an ice-cold hand gently wrapped around her wrist. The grip was completely painless and its culprit didn't even seem to have put any strength into it; but she was unable to either move or yank herself away. She couldn't help but give this ill-looking man an astounded look, thinking, Young Master highly respected this one, but he's even more mysterious than I thought. Not sure I would succeed were I ever to attack him.
Changing her mind as she was a smart one who knew her own limits, she retracted her hands, smirking at Zhou Zishu, "Just doing it out of respect for you."
Then she turned to the young boy and began scolding, "See, little brat, this sister is only passing by, and she helps you out of pity for your situation; so don't even look at her like she murdered you entire family or something. Try and avenge him if you want relief that much. How nice of you to only know how to cry over a dead body and bully this good, patient sister!"
This girl might be clever, but she certainly wasn't kind.
Zhou Zishu, for lack of better options, was about to console him briefly; but to his surprise, the boy after being stupefied by her words suddenly wipe away the tears with all his might and knelt down. He audibly banged his head into the ground twice, voice tiny, "You were right to educate me, miss, I have greatly wronged you."
He looked a little more sharp-edged with his teeth gritted way too tight, stretching out his face muscles. In contrast, Gu Xiang was dumbfounded, retreating half a step, blinking her large almond eyes, "I- I didn't say that to make you kneel to me, stand- just stand up, quickly."
Zhou Zishu bent down a little to help him stand without the boy even noticing. He suggested, "First we should have a burial for… for Old Brother Li. He trusted me to take care of things, so I'm gonna escort you on your journey. But if you two are not in a hurry, you can rest here for a bit and tell me what happened."
The boy muttered his assent, so Zhou Zishu helped him find a place behind the shrine to bury the old man. Gu Xiang, after observing and finally feeling her heart stirred, brought them a piece of wood, pulling out a dagger around her waist to carve it into a simple headstone. "What's his name?" she asked.
The boy thought about it for a bit before shaking his head. "He only told us his last name's Li, and that he owed my father something, so he risked his life to help us escape. I just call him Uncle Li… I don't really know what his real name was."
Zhou Zishu exhaled; people in jianghu repay debts and exact vengeance as they see fit; is there ever a need to leave a name?
Gu Xiang had hear head down, engraving "For Uncle Li the Chivalrous" on the wooden headstone. She looked it over, giving to Zhou Zishu once satisfied. "What do you think?"
Zhou Zishu saw the word "Uncle" missing a stroke the moment he glanced at it, feeling both amused and sorrowful. He added the missing stroke with his finger before putting it in front of the simple grave.
The young boy knelt down, kowtowing three times while trying to quell down the tears. Then he stood up, his back straight.
1 The acupuncture point in the center of the chest.
2 A measurement of time, one geng equals two hours.